By Phil Boyce
VP/Director, Spoken Word Format
Operations VP, New York Region
NEW YORK — They seem to come out of the woodwork these days. Most of them never understood talk radio, and why it got so big. Some of them have their own personal dislikes about the format, and now that there are rumors of our death, they relish in it. I have seen more reasons for this than I can shake a stick at, and NONE of it makes sense to me.
Recently, a respected research company decided to put their finger on it. Using very little in what I would consider real research, this company had this conclusion: There is a news saturation going on with so many sources of news. They say that’s “wearing thin on consumers who are seeking alternative sources of information that is fresh, entertaining and positive.”
In the last four weeks we have seen Ebola take center stage and scare the pants off of most of us. I have not seen any listener worry that the information must be fresh, entertaining and positive. They actually want the gory details. They want to know why this thing has grown so fast and if they or their kids be caught up in it. They want to know what to think about it, and what to do about it. Even the format detractors will have to admit: This is right in our wheelhouse. This is what people care about, and this is what we do.
A few weeks before Ebola, we watched in horror as ISIS chopped off the heads of a few innocent Americans. Okay, this is serious now. These crazy lunatics have declared war on us, and we have to respond. This is what gets the talk radio audience really pissed off and they can’t get enough. Again…talk radio…do your thing!
President Obama seems clueless to stop any of this and after he shows up on vacation with a statement on how he is so appalled and will not let this stand, he hurries out the back door to play golf. Talk radio? Get on your horse!
One of our GMs recently read somebody’s blog with the headline “The Collective Suicide of Conservative Talk Radio.” In it, he blamed four things for talk radio’s unfortunate demise:
1) Sean Hannity and the gang play too many spots.
2) Rush Limbaugh charges too much in cash compensation.
3) Stations all over the country are dumping talk as a format.
4) Talk radio is guilty of “conservative greed” because they are running too many spots.
Let’s answer these allegations:
1) Sean runs the same number of spots as he did 10 years ago. The writer didn’t like the way the show clock works, but it was designed to take advantage of the PPM. If Sean and Rush hold their spots to :20 after, and they have a really good open, they hold their audience into the next quarter hour and win it. The downside is, it means shorter talk-time approaching the bottom of the hour but it was a trade-off they made after lots of research.
2) Rush may have once charged too much, but stations were willing to pay it because he delivered the bacon. Everything is negotiable, so stations complaining about it should just negotiate. Last I heard even Cumulus reached a deal for Rush to stay on their stations and, yes, I think they are still paying. Maybe not as much as before.
3) The writer’s example was WPGB-FM in Pittsburgh. I am sure there are a few more. It was a shame to lose that station from the talk format, but the owner saw an opportunity to make more money with a music format, so why fault them? It just so happens that the owner is iHeartMedia who also happens to own Rush and Sean who got displaced, so it is obvious it was a corporate decision, based on that one station’s ability to make more money. Nothing more, and certainly not an overwhelming trend. I have seen some bottom feeders who never made it in talk jump to sports. Go for it! You will not succeed doing that either. This is not a trend. This is the result of a bad economy thinning the herd. Fine with me…more listeners for my stations.
4) NONE of the major talk shows have added inventory in the last 10 years. This is not conservative greed, but there is corporate greed as the big companies do all they can to make more money. Last time I checked, the big national talk show hosts were all making money for their owners, so I fail to see the harm in all that.
There is a legitimate concern for talk radio which has to be addressed. Last June at the TALKERS magazine Seminar in New York City, I asked the crowd if ANY of them felt, with all that was going on, are there fewer listeners to talk radio today than before and not a single hand went up. We all know they are listening, yet Nielsen continues to show the big talkers at their lowest point. Until Nielsen figures out how to add up all the digital listening that has gone from traditional listening to digital devices, we will never know how many people are listening. Every time you look at a Nielsen number, just know, it ain’t all there! Until they fix this, they will increasingly become irrelevant.
Right now, as I write this, you can listen to any of Salem’s 27 news talkers on six multiple platforms, and only ONE of them is over the air with a tower and transmitter. So why we allow Nielsen to continue to rate us this way and not even acknowledge all the other ways of listening is a mystery to me.
I recently saw a press release from a PD who had hired a new talk show host saying “he understands the evolution of talk radio.” Every format evolves, but if that means we have to stop talking about what is important to people, and replace it with silly talk about personal stories, social networking, movies, and the like, the format really IS in trouble. Those stations who stick with the game plan and keep filling that insatiable appetite for news, information and what is happening now…as we help them understand what to make of it, will be the ones who survive long into the future.
Phil Boyce is the VP/director, spoken word format and operations VP, New York region for Salem Communications. He can be phoned at 212-857-9696 or emailed at Phil.Boyce@Salem.cc.